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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
'I have seen so many people die'

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Ghotki, southern Pakistan

In the hours after Wednesday's appalling multiple train crash in Pakistan, many stories were created - not all of them true - and many more were buried in the panic that followed the fateful crash.

Three trains collided near the town of Ghotki, some 550km (340 miles) north of the country's bustling financial capital Karachi.

A Pakistani soldier inspects the wreckage of three trains following the crash
The small station was bustling with people at the time of the crash

Over 130 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the crash.

The site of the crash - a small railway station about 40 minutes' drive from the nearest town - was bustling with people.

Realising that I was a journalist, a hoard of people rushed towards me shouting "wado haadso".

It means "the big accident" in local Sindhi language.

Gradually, the story started to come together.

"I was woken up by a loud crash," Mohammed Murad, a local villager said.

I have seen so many people dying today. Many of them were alive and crying for help, but they died before I could reach them
Meer Malik
Intelligence officer

"I came out on the street and in the first light of dawn I could see a plume of smoke coming from the direction of the local railway station."

By the time he reached the station, dozens of others had already gathered there.

"My life is not going to be the same again," said Meer Malik, an officer of the intelligence bureau who was among the first to reach the site.

"I have seen so many people dying today. Many of them were alive and crying for help, but they died before I could reach them."

He put his head in his hands and started to cry.

All around him lay the debris from the crash.

Stench of death

Huge railway bogies weighing tonnes were scattered around like toys.

Through the twisted and gnarled metal, one could see the personal belongings of the victims - a football, a few school bags and a tricycle among other things.

Who knows who these people are. Who knows if their relatives will ever find them
Hospital doctor

Inside the sweltering carriages, the stench of death was unmistakable - although all the bodies had been removed from the scene.

Crowds of little children gathered around one carriage where they could still see a few limbs scattered all over the floor.

This carriage was so badly mangled that rescue workers had not been able to remove them.

A huge opening had been cut into the side of this carriage with oxyacetylene torches.

But the crazy angle at which the carriage was tilted - and the thousands of pieces of glass sticking out from everywhere makes it extremely hazardous territory to negotiate.

It is scenes like this that speak of the horror of the accident.

People at the site refused to believe the officially confirmed death toll of 132.

"Look at this mess. I think hundreds of people are dead," said one onlooker.

But this could well be one of the many stories that this terrible event has thrown up.

Local heroes

Another and a far more credible story relates to the heroic rescue effort put up by the locals.

"We managed to remove most of the dead and the injured shortly after noon," said a soldier.

His battalion was rushed to the spot from the nearby cantonment at Pano Aqil to start the rescue effort.

The crowded trains collided in a devastating chain of events

"But by the time we reached the spot, locals had already started moving the injured to nearby hospitals," the soldier said.

"They were simply magnificent," he said.

Later, I was told that a vast majority of shopkeepers in the nearby bazaar did not open shop, choosing instead to join in the rescue effort.

Munir Illahi, a local policeman, said there was not a single incident of anyone trying to walk away with the goods of the victims.

Theft by onlookers, he says, is one of the major hassles following any major incident of this nature.

Railway workers clearing the track said they had been joined by dozens of volunteers from the nearby villages.

"They are getting nothing for their effort but they refuse to go home," says railway worker Mohammed Akbar.

"If they stay around, we can clear this track up in half the time that it would have taken otherwise."

Nameless victims

The spirit is even more strongly in evidence at the Ghotki hospital - the only medical facility close to the site.

The compound of the hospital is jammed with people bringing in relief supplies. Everywhere one looks, there are cartons of food, medicines and clothes.

One can see that most of the relief camps set up here are from religious organisations. They are also the ones completing the last rites of the deceased.

And it is here that one really comes across the scale of the tragedy.

The largest hall in the hospital is packed with dead bodies, the stench unbearable.

Dozens of blocks of ice are thrown around the hall to keep the bodies from decomposing.

"We have no idea who most of these people are," says the doctor on duty.

I ask him his name many times, but the question does not register.

"Who knows who these people are. Who knows if their relatives will ever find them," he mutters, more to himself than to me or the curious crowd of onlookers gathered around us.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch footage from the train crash site




SEE ALSO:
Pakistan train disaster kills 132
13 Jul 05 |  South Asia
In pictures: Pakistan train crash
13 Jul 05 |  In Pictures
World's worst rail disasters
13 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Timeline: Pakistan
13 Jul 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
03 Jun 05 |  Country profiles


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